Gaza must not be cut off from the world

The Egyptian authorities began efforts to reclose the country’s border with Gaza on Friday morning. Their actions come three days after Palestinian militants blew open breaches in the Gaza-Egypt border wall, allowing hundreds of thousands of Gazans to cross into Egypt to buy food, medicines, fuel and other basic necessities.

The Gaza-Egypt border had been sealed since June 2007, virtually imprisoning the 1.5 million Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip, most of them in abject poverty as a result of the stringent Israeli blockade imposed on Gaza.

Amnesty International said that Egypt has the right to secure its border, but a return to the situation whereby the Egypt-Gaza border, Gazans’ only means of passage to the outside world, is completely sealed, as it has been for the past seven months, is not acceptable.

“Whatever agreement about the management of the border is reached between the governments of Israel and Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas de-facto administration in Gaza, it must respect fully the fundamental rights of the population of Gaza,” said Malcolm Smart, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme.   “Notably their right not to be subjected to collective punishment, including arbitrary restrictions on movement and their rights to health, an adequate standard of living and freedom of movement.”

Amnesty International also called for patients in need of urgent medical treatment that is not available in Gaza to be allowed prompt passage out of Gaza — not left to die for lack of medical care. Some 40 patients died in recent months after having been refused passage out of Gaza by the Israeli authorities.

“Gazans should be allowed to leave by normal means, not have to rely on such extraordinary measures as the breach in the border wall to provide their only possible means of exit. They should not have to risk being denied the possibility to return home if the border is sealed again while they are abroad receiving desperately needed hospital treatment,” added Malcolm Smart.

The wall was breached following the Israeli authorities’ tightening last week of their already stifling blockade on Gaza, preventing the passage of even essential goods, such as fuel and humanitarian assistance. Medical supplies quickly started to run out and Gaza’s only electricity generating plant was forced to close down on 20 January for lack of fuel.

As electricity supplies were cut, hospitals in Gaza were only able to keep functioning using back-up generators and had to cut most services. Health workers faced problems getting to work as petrol shortages curtailed transport.  

Following the electricity plant’s closure, the Israeli authorities allowed some fuel supplies into Gaza on Tuesday (22 January), enabling the power plant to resume operation, though at reduced capacity. However, the situation remains dire and power cuts are expected to continue.

Hospitals remain in a state of emergency due to the lack of and uncertainty about fuel supplies and their heavy reliance on back up generators during power cuts and shortages has increased generator breakdowns at a time when the blockade makes it difficult or impossible to get spare parts.  

At the Gaza European Hospital and at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), all treatment has to be suspended except for emergencies and cases in Intensive Care Units (ICU) whenever there are electricity cuts.

“Hospitals need a constant power supply and adequate back-up contingency provisions — not a drip supply and the uncertainty that even that may be cut off at whim in retaliation for developments in unrelated sectors,” said Malcolm Smart.

Medical facilities in Gaza lack the specialized staff and equipment to treat a range of conditions, such as cancer and cardiovascular illnesses. Amnesty International continues to urge the Israeli authorities to expedite access to medical care for patients in need of urgent medical treatment not available in Gaza.

The organization is also calling on the Palestinian Authority and the governments of Egypt and Jordan to help facilitate access to healthcare for these patients, and on the Egyptian authorities to ensure that the security forces deployed at the border do not use excessive force against the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip who pass or attempt to pass through the border.